Storms and Friends
15 June 2017 | Marstal, Aero Island, Denmark
Barbara/7 knots wind, thin high clouds
We last wrote as we were arriving in Vlieland following a very interesting passage through the North Sea. As it turns out, the North Sea wasn’t done with us. We had only planned to spend two leisurely days in Vlieland, enjoying some beach time and learning about the Frisian Islands culture. But the sun was nowhere to be seen, and instead we found ourselves buffeted by strong winds, thunder, lightning, and occasional downpours. We paid for one additional night and then another, after hearing that the North Sea had waves of 5 meters (16 feet) plus.
We had moored along one side of the marina, alongside the dike between the marina and the sea. As it turns out that wasn’t so wonderful, although there weren’t really many places in the marina that were better. The maximum wind gust we recorded was 58.6 knots, and for the first day and night we had sustained winds of 45-50 knots. The wind blew at us sideways, across the dike, and for most of that first day and night we were heeled over 15 degrees, just from the force of the wind on the mast and rigging. You’d think it would have gotten better at low tide, when we were 10 feet or so lower alongside the dike, but it didn’t seem to make much difference. I got out our high-seas rubberized mats so that the dishes wouldn’t slide across the counters. We doubled up our mooring lines, and added many ties to the rigging to attempt to stop the clatter. As I lay in bed that first night, I could hear at least 5 different rhythms clattering in my ears, and I truly thought (in one of those sleepiness-enhanced fears) that we were going to be torn off the dock and thrown across the harbor. I moved onto one of the center-of-the-boat settees, and slept much better.
That first day, a ferry came into the marina, docking with an amazing feat of seamanship in a harbor that didn’t have much more room for her than just to rotate on an axis. It was a three-deck ferry, and we can’t even figure out how she got in the narrow entrance. Certainly the rotation was done with the assistance of bow thrusters and stern thrusters, but still incredible.
(We’ve now learned that most of the sailboats and motorboats in our size range have bow thrusters, and the marinas are sometimes built with tight turns and narrow waterways that seem to assume everyone will have them. At first we were a bit scornful because piloting a boat with bow thrusters seems to require a lesser degree of boat handling skill, but I think we will come to regret that Sequoia doesn’t have them.)
After that first day and night in Vlieland, things improved a bit, but the forecast was still for high winds (in the 40 knot range) so we elected to remain. We ventured out to the harbormasters office, to the Marina’s restaurant and to the little convenience store for some basic groceries. The convenience store catered primarily to the tourists who weren’t there because of the weather. Out in front of the store they had a big display of beach chairs, sand toys, pails, shovels and the like. It seemed incongruous given the actual weather out on the beaches. In heavy rain, we walked the kilometer to the showers in our foul weather gear. It wasn’t actually that cold, so there was a risk that coming back from the shower you’d need a shower again.
We met some of the other sailors who were stuck there for three or four days, and made some new friends. Many people were able to advise us about sailing in the North Sea, passing through the Kiel Canal, and some of the places worth visiting in the Baltic. One generous sailor headed in the other direction has loaned us his charts for the Kiel Canal up to the south of Denmark, and we’ll mail those back to him in a week or so. It seems like an incredible act of generosity.
There were a number of historical Dutch boats in the harbor, apparently there for sail training. They didn’t go out during these stormy days, but there were always plenty of people aboard. As the weather improved we walked to the village of Oost Vlieland, found some groceries and a nice restaurant. The walk took us by the village’s ferry landing, where we watched more incredible feats of seamanship as the ferry headed into the landing, then used a heavy piling to pivot around 180 degrees ending up with its stern to the vehicle ramp. (All this during winds of about 25 knots). During the process, the engines stirred the water into a frenzy, and the seagulls went crazy, going for small sea critters that were sucked by the turbulence onto the surface.
We very much liked Vlieland, despite the rather trying circumstances of our first visit. I’m sure we’ll be back.
Finally, after consulting with the harbormaster and the weather forecast, we decided to head out on Friday midday. The Dutch historic training ships were headed out as well, and we enjoyed watching them handling the big sails and the huge leeboards. The route north around the island and into the North Sea requires careful navigation. We were told that the sands shift with every storm, and that the Dutch relocate some buoys every week. (None of that is reflected on current charts, so you just have to trust the Dutch Navy that the buoys are going to be in the right place.) (They were).
We planned an overnight passage to Brunsbüttel, which is just at the entrance to the Kiel canal. The passage was more or less uneventful. In these northern latitudes at this time of year, it never really gets dark. The sun goes down at about 10 pm and it’s back up by 3 am. The horizon is light all that time, and there was a full moon to boot. We had an easy time seeing all the huge ships heading to or from Hamburg or the Kiel Canal. There was an extensive wind farm with a red light on every wind turbine, oil platforms, and every kind of navigation buoy at frequent intervals. There was a large field of freighters anchored, apparently waiting their turn for dock space at Bremerhaven. The wind was favorable and we made good time for our entrance to the Kiel Canal.
You never know what the lock set-up is going to be, what lines you need to have ready and where to position your fenders. Our first lock experience was in Ballard (Seattle) many years ago, and my recollection is that you had to have two 150 foot lines in case they routed you through the big locks and you needed the lines to go up and back, even when you were at the lowest water level. The smaller locks had floating bollards that slid up and down in channels, so you were always tied closely to the wall, level with the boat. We had no idea what the Kiel Canal locks would have.
As it turned out there was a third system in use – floating platforms were along the sides of the locks, with rings on the floats as attachment points. The platforms were only about 8 inches high, so your fenders needed to be down in the water. Someone had to be prepared to jump off to run lines through the rings. So of course we were prepared for something else altogether, and there was a mad scurry to change our arrangements to match the conditions. It was something of a fire drill, and some of the other boaters looked on with amusement (or perhaps I’m imagining all that).
The water level changed very little between the North Sea and the Kiel Canal, so locking through didn’t take much time at all (except for the wait while boats filed into the lock). We exited the other side and immediately turned left into the Brunsbüttel marina, where we were to meet Cori and Jens Kosyna. There was a fair/flea market in full swing, with amusement rides, food carts, vendor tables and big crowds. Between the fair and the dock there was a narrow waterway and a railing. We felt somewhat like zoo animals on display behind a fence and moat. The amazing thing about Brunsbüttel is that when you turn away from the fair in the opposite direction, you’re just a few feet away from absolutely monstrous ships heading into or out of the lock. We felt like awe-struck children in the land of the giants.
Cori and Jens were driving over from the Kosyna family sailboat, two hours away in Arnis. The plan was that they would ride through the Kiel Canal with us, meeting the rest of the family at the other end, and retrieving the car at a later date. After they arrived we had dinner together and then got some well-deserved sleep for an early departure the next morning.
The Kiel Canal is a wonder of 19th century German engineering. Very well maintained, and big enough to accommodate large ocean-going freighters. It was our job to stay out of their way. Being Sunday, the charges for commercial boats was much higher, so the traffic was very light. Every now and then there is a ferry crossing, almost always with a hotel or cafe alongside. Sometimes the buildings appear to be quite historic at the ferry crossings. Alongside the canal, on both sides, there is a path for hikers, bikers and even an occasional motorcycle.
The canal is 53 miles long, so it took us pretty much all day. At the end we reached the Holtenau locks, where quite a bit of construction is taking place. Only one of the four locks is now in operational condition, so they’ve waived the lock fees for recreational boats. Ahead of us in the lock, there was an extremely large barge, with tugs on both ends, carrying what appeared to be the bottom of a very large ship under construction. Each half of the ship bottom was the full width of the barge. The barge filled about 80% of the lock’s width, so this ship, when assembled, will not be able to go through the Kiel Canal.
Waiting for us at the Holtenau Marina in Kiel were the rest of the Kosyna family – Cori & Jens’s two children and Jens’s parents. Cori was an exchange student from Austria who stayed with us for a year, back when we lived in Forest Grove. We have maintained a close relationship with her and Jens, although the last time we saw them was at their wedding 6 years ago in Hamburg. They now have two happy, bright boys with a lot of energy. The boys reminded us a bit of our two sons when they were that age. We had met Jens’s parents at the wedding, but we really got to know them better on this trip, and we feel like we have become good friends.
Kiel was getting ready for “Kiel Week” which is a nautical celebration with many historic ships. We ended up tied on a dock with 6 or 7 big Dutch sailing ships, some square-rigged, and all with lee-boards instead of keels. They were all in the range of 70-100 feet long. During the 18 hours we were there, we saw more and more of the Dutch ships come in, and as we have moved North, we have seen yet more of them, mostly heading south toward Kiel.
Monday morning, accompanied by Cori and her older son, we sailed north toward the Kosynas’ home port of Arnis on the Schlei inlet. We headed into a Northwest wind, which gradually quickened to 30 knots, making for somewhat of a wild ride. We pared the sails down to a minimum – 3 reefs and a reefed jib. Two of those historic Dutch ships blasted past us, having a great sail, likely heading for another of these historic ship festivals known to Cori.
Arriving at the Schlei inlet, we found the marina at Maasholm, which had side-tie space available. (More about the trials and tribulations of docking at marinas in the Baltic Sea in a future blog post.) For the next two days, waiting out the strong winds, we had a great time with the Kosyna family, checking out available restaurants, re-provisioning, and having lots of good conversation.
I will leave you there, and I promise lots more good adventures to come!
The North Sea
06 June 2017 | Vlieland Island, The Netherlands
Craig & Barbara/stormy: 33kn S wind, rain
We have just finished our first two days sailing in the North Sea, and it feels like the sailing part of our cruise has really begun. After motoring north from Ghent on the Ghent-Terneuzen canal, we locked through into the Westerschelde delta and ended up at Breskens, where the south shore meets the Atlantic. The Westerschelde is one of four great river deltas in the south of Holland and the only one that hasn't had its opening blocked by a dike or tide gates. Breskens, like many towns in the low countries, is a new city built over the ruins left by WWII. It felt like a cross between any seaside community and a planned village, but was very pleasant in the early summer sunshine. We walked into the village for supplies, and found an upscale cheese shop selling cheeses made on the family farm. (We bought both some young Gouda cheese and some very pungent 3-year-old cheese.)
From Breskens we headed Sequoia out into the North Sea to begin our journey north. This was our first sailing since coming off the freighter and we were pretty cautious, what with it being new waters--the North Sea!--and full of a never ending stream of tankers and freighters. As soon as we overcame the flood tide and got out, going was easy with 15kn of wind from the SW. We cautiously started with the staysail and one reef in the main which worked well as the wind built. We were soon making 7+ knots on a broad reach and even more over the ground as we picked up the generally north flowing current.
Our destination was IJmuiden, the port of Amsterdam, picked more for its distance (85nm) than its beauty. We got underway to 0600 and arrived at 1830 tired and cranky. The next day we cruised another 65nm north to Vlieland, one of the Frisian Islands. That was a shorter, easier day with the full genoa out on a broad reach and ending nearly dead downwind. The island is a tourist destination, low off the water with the wind whistling over its sandy beaches. We had a great dinner at the marina restaurant: shared caprese salad, beef brisket salad for Barbara, skewered beef kabobs with Indonesian sauce and veggies for Craig.
Some impressions of the North Sea so far: firstly, we have never before sailed 150 nm without getting into water deeper than 85 feet; the whole Dutch coastline is full of sandy shallows and narrow, shifting channels. There are defined traffic lanes everywhere for commercial traffic. Small vessels must cross those traffic lanes at right angles and with great caution. Each different port has its own VHF traffic control channel, listed on the Dutch paper charts but not on our CMAP electronic charts. (We were told in Breskens that our electronic charts, downloaded six months ago, are already certainly out of date. New Dutch charts were issued on June 1, showing new and changed buoy placements and even new coastlines, where the Dutch have been expanding their available land. We bought a set of some of the June 1 charts; we're now realizing we should have bought more.)
Vast wind farms are everywhere: some located on coastal land, some in the sea close to shore near each blocked-off inlet and some well offshore. Our track 2-3nm offshore still had us inside at least two tracts of 40 or so turbines. There are many nav buoys but also giant cubic structures on stilts looking like Star Wars ATATs, which turn out to be fog signals. Careful attention at the helm is mandatory!
We have been fortunate to have two days of sailing with the wind at our backs. With 25+ knots of wind yesterday, the seas were about 4-5 feet but closely pitched. The motion sometimes required two hands but Sequoia sailed dry and fast. Several times we looked at each other and commented how we would hate to be going the other way; it would have been slow and wet, with lots of crash and bash.
We are now holed up in the Vlieland marina for the next day or two as a front moves through. With periodic rain, 25-35 kn of wind in the harbor, force 8-10 (35-45 kn with gusts over 50) outside, and reported wave heights of 5 meters in the North Sea, discretion says to stay put. We have been aiming at meeting our former exchange student and family near Kiel in four days, but that is starting to look unlikely unless we make an overnight passage. Motto on Sequoia: "Schedules Make You Crazy!" For now, we will be content to stay put, relax and do boat chores, and keep an eye on the weather forecast.
Sequoia's Arrival in Europe
19 May 2017 | Zelzate, Belgium
Craig & Barbara
A month has passed since we last wrote. You'll recall that we loaded Sequoia onto the freighter Singelgracht in Jacksonville, Florida. At that time we didn't know her exact destination nor when she would get there. At some point not too long before we had decided that the freighter might arrive as soon as the second week of May, so we bought our plane tickets for May 3 with the thought that we could be tourists until the boat arrived. We had about 10 days at home, which gave us time to do some final packing and get the house ready for our 4 months absence. There were instructions for our house-sitter, Dave Mangan, canceling the newspapers, doing some banking, getting plants set up for watering - you get the idea.
We successfully negotiated airports and sleeplessness and arrived in London on May 4th. Our tourist activities consisted mostly of nautical history - in Greenwich we toured the Cutty Sark and the Royal Observatory; in Portsmouth we visited Nelson's ship, the Victory, and two other ships, older and newer. We got started on our search for a marina and yard where Sequoia could be stored on the hard next winter, and we got lucky: the first one we looked at appears to be excellent: the Port Solent Marina just north of Portsmouth. The entrance to the marina has locks (something entirely new for us) because of the extreme tides on the south coast of England. Our other very interesting expedition while in Portsmouth was to the Isle of Wight where we saw Queen Victoria's "beach house" and the much older Carrisbrooke Castle. We also saw our first ever "chain ferry" across the Medina River.
While we're doing all this preparation and touring around, we're constantly checking the position of the Singelgracht, and trying to find out when and where she's going. First she went to Wilmington, North Carolina, to take on wood pellets intended for a buyer in Belgium. There was a significant delay in Wilmington due to rain: the wood pellet owner would not allow them to be loaded if there was any rain at all. Once she got started across the Atlantic, there was constant back and forth with the shipping company about when and where she'd be docking.
Europe (not including the United Kingdom) has a visa rule (Schengen) that restricts visitors from outside the EU to 90 days in any 180 day period. The rule applies to people, not boats. So we were happy for Sequoia to arrive whenever, but we want to save as many of our 90 days as possible for summertime sailing (June-August). We didn't want to get into the Schengen zone to meet the Singelgracht any sooner than necessary, and yet - the longer you wait to book transportation, the more expensive it gets. The Eurostar (the 200-mph train which goes from London to various European destinations) is only £29 if booked 30 days ahead, but if you get within about 5 days of your travel date, it costs £120 or more. We finally just picked a date based on information we had, and traveled to Ghent Belgium on May 12, which turned out to be 4 days too soon. Ka-ching - there goes 4 days of Schengen time.
We stayed in a very interesting B&B in Zelzate (north of Ghent) called "Tolkantoor" which turns out to mean "Customs House" in Flemish. This was the old border crossing between Belgium and the Netherlands - the border is still there, but means much less in these days of the European Union. So the old Customs House was abandoned and allowed to deteriorate. A Belgian couple (the present owners) bought it in the 1990's and put a lot of work into restoring it and converting it into an art gallery and B&B. Very interesting. The B&B overlooks a small marina tucked into an old route for the Ghent-Terneuzen canal.
What an interesting thing the canal is. The Ghent-Terneuzen canal was originally a river and at some point in the 19th century it was turned into a canal with a depth of about 3 meters. The barges were pulled by draft animals along a tow path. Since then, the canal has been widened, deepened and moved westward twice, and each time the adjacent towns and fields have gained some land (the old canal routes) and lost other land (the new canal). Zelzate has turned its newly acquired land into parks and other public space, but other parts of the old canal have been turned into marinas, boat yards, and temporary mooring spaces for all sorts of work boats. The little marina in front of the B&B Tolkantoor is one of those spaces.
In the canal, there is an incredible amount of marine traffic. Oceangoing freighters (like the Singelgracht) go by every few hours. Long barges and canal boats go by at the rate of one every two or three minutes. The canal boats, which appear to be as much as 500 feet long, often have living quarters at the stern, and one or two cars on the deck above the living quarters. There is usually a small crane, which presumably is used to lift the car on and off the boat. One imagines a very interesting lifestyle.
When Singelgracht was near, we got our hopes up, but there was no space at the dock, so they had to anchor out in the North Sea for a couple of days. They came into the canal on Sunday morning, and we went out onto the point to watch the freighter (and our boat) go past, heading for a dock about 5km upstream. We were hopeful that the boat might be unloaded that day, but it was Sunday, and apparently dockworkers get double pay, and must be present for the unloading, even though they do none of the work and just stand around and drink coffee. Moreover, the dockworkers would have had to have been contracted on Friday morning for the Sunday shift, and that hadn't been done.
Singelgracht went to a dock on Energiestraat, which turned out to be the coal terminal. (More about that later). The main cargo aboard Singelgracht was not our boat; it was a hold full of wood pellets, apparently intended for paper making in Belgium. The owner of the wood pellets was able to put more pressure on the shipping company than we were, and all those pellets had to be unloaded before they would unload Sequoia. Unless it rained. No wood pellets could be unloaded in the rain.
We went aboard the Singelgracht on Monday, to change Sequoia's rigging to allow the lift-off. When we reached the deck of Sequoia, we were alarmed to see a large quantity of coal dust on the boat. If you step on it, it makes a black smear. Monday afternoon it started to rain and they suspended the unloading of the wood pellets. We were hopeful that they would lift off Sequoia then and there. No such luck. They couldn't get the stand-around-and-drink-coffee dockworkers there, and there was complete uncertainty about whether Belgian customs had been there yet. (It later turned out they had, but left no paperwork, simply gave their oral release). (This matters, because Sequoia can only be in the EU for 18 months before VAT is payable - a tax equal to a significant percentage of the boat's value. If we have no entry paperwork, they might later claim we arrived much sooner and that the VAT was now payable.)
So we were told to come back Tuesday morning, which we did, and they were ready to lift-off our boat. There was now about twice as much coal dust on the boat's surfaces, because the weather was somewhat windy, and the big piles of coal dust were right there. (I'm hitting the keys extra hard as I type this... Grrr...)
The lift off otherwise went very smoothly, and Sequoia entered the water in excellent condition (but for the coal dust and the smears of the Singelgracht crews' boots). The shipping company has offered to pay for professional cleaning, and we sure hope it works. Every speck of coal dust left an orange stain. We vacuumed up all the dust particles, and the boat still looks pretty bad. This week, while we're traveling in England and Scotland, the boatyard next to the Tolkantoor B&B is undertaking to clean the boat.
We put Sequoia into that little marina in front of the Tolkantoor B&B, and did as much as we could to restore order. We decide not to put the sails on because of the cleaning process that's about to take place. So we'll have a big job when we return to Belgium at the end of this month, ready to start our grand trip to the Baltic.
The marina ("Watersportvereiniging Zelzate") is a low-key but colorful place. The clubhouse is an old river boat, long and narrow, with the house extended over the now inaccessible hatches. Each day, the Club's President and his wife show up at about 2 P.M. to open up, make a pot of coffee and have a beer with a couple of regulars, many of them retired live-aboards. Most of the boats are steel-hulled power boats, but a couple of modern sailboats share space. Freddy, the harbormaster, rounded down our length to calculate the rent, about $14 USD a day. There is a dubious toilet and shower on the clubhouse barge we haven't yet seen, and no pump-out facilities. This is "okay" since Belgium doesn't require holding tanks and none of the boats here have them. (On the other hand, once we move 50 meters north, we will be in the Netherlands, where there is a no-discharge rule...)
As we write, we are in York, and headed tomorrow for Scotland. We're having a grand time, despite some rainy weather. We're enjoying the adventure, with all its unexpected twists and turns.
Preparation for Sequoia's ride across the Atlantic
22 April 2017 | Jacksonville, Florida
Barbara/ hot and windy
It seems so long ago that I wrote of our arrival in Jacksonville on April 19, yet I think it was only 3 days ago. So much has happened!
While we awaited word as to when we’d load Sequoia onto the freighter Singelgracht, we stayed at a small marina around the corner from the commercial docks. Seafarers Marina appears to be mostly live-aboard, populated by some fairly decrepit boats, plenty of small yippy dogs, lots of small noisy air conditioners, retired folks, and some poor working folks. They keep one slip open for visitors (that would be us).
The tide rise and fall in this part of Florida is only about 3 feet, so they have no need for floating docks. The docks are instead fixed on pilings, and there is an occasional “finger pier” that steps down and extends part way out between boats. Otherwise the boats are moored to pilings on both sides, and to the main dock at bow or stern. When you arrive, you’re supposed to catch a line to or from a piling on either side as you nose in or back in to the slip. This was a completely new experience for us, and we weren’t very good at it. Fortunately the marina manager, Nikki, helped with the lines, and we managed to get Sequoia situated. After that it was a matter of acrobatics and Fate whether you had to step up or down to the little finger pier, and how far!
The other problem with the marina was the wind. While we were there we had to get the two jibs hoisted and then removed from their furlers and into their sailbags. The wind was strong enough in the afternoon that we just barely got the job done for the staysail (the smaller jib) and we gave up on the genoa. Instead we hired the marina manager’s husband, Lee, to come around in the early morning and help us with the genoa. Lee is young and strong, and in the business of helping people, primarily through working as a rescue tow boat driver for Tow Boat US. Lee keeps his small, maneuverable, powerful boat at the marina, for just such purposes. Later that same day, after he helped us with the genoa, he headed out the St. Johns River to rescue a 47 foot sailboat. They were just starting on a passage from Jacksonville across the Atlantic to the UK, and their engine transmission failed as they went down the river. Better here than in the middle of the ocean!
While we were at the Seafarer’s Marina, we spent most of our time preparing the boat for its upcoming passage across the Atlantic on the deck of the Singelgracht. Besides removing the two jibs, we had to remove the backstay to allow the Singelgracht’s crane to lift the boat aboard, and rig running backstays to ensure the mast stays aloft without the backstay. The anchor had to be secured, the anchor windlass plugged and covered, solar panels folded, interior items secured against vibration (much as for a sailing passage across an ocean), and other large and small tasks too numerous for me to now remember. We decided not to remove the mainsail (which we had done for the earlier passage on the Merwedegracht) primarily because we knew that this time Sequoia would be placed in a much more protected position on the freighter’s deck.
Concurrently with all this, there was considerable back and forth by email and telephone about the date of loading, the date of arrival in… Wait! The destination just changed! We received an email from our customs agent, and it listed the arrival port as… Ghent, Belgium. (We previously had been told it would be Eemshaven, The Netherlands, which is much closer to the Baltic – our primary destination this summer.) So we looked for a navigation chart that covers Ghent (we don’t have any), and we resorted to Google Maps. Ghent, it turns out is 30 miles inland, past a couple of sets of locks, and without any apparent facilities for sailboats like ours.
Passage for a pleasure boat on the deck of a freighter is incidental for the shipping company. They are primarily driven by what cargo they carry in their holds, and where that cargo is being shipped. Evidently that is all decided fairly close to departure time. We originally booked Sequoia’s passage for Southampton, UK; then it was changed to Eemshaven, and now to Ghent. We don’t really have any option but to accept it and adjust. (I suppose our other option is to wait for a different freighter, possibly months from now, with our boat racking up moorage fees in Florida’s hurricane zone. Not really an option.)
We rented a car to run errands, we did laundry, and we went to West Marine for a few last minute items. The hour was appointed for us to show up at the Singelgracht ready for Sequoia’s lift onto the freighter: 5 pm yesterday. We planned to set out at about 4 pm for the approximately 3 mile trip around the corner to the ship. We asked the marina manager, Nikki, to help us cast off. She showed up with her husband (Lee, the rescue tow boat guy, and another fellow). There was a wind of about 15 knots blowing straight into the slip, and a good current was flowing the same direction. We should have been warned by the fact that three people showed up to cast us off.
We talked through the order of releasing lines, and Lee told us to “gun it.” Craig, ever cautious, proceeded slowly, not wanting to scrape all the way out, removing a solar panel as we passed the pilings, like the barbecue fitting we had scraped off on the way in. We ended up 90 degrees to the wind, pinned against a piling, and Lee sprinted down the dock for his tow boat while the rest of us fended off. He roared up in his little tow boat, took a line and pulled us away from the pilings with no significant damage. Whew!
We showed up as scheduled at the side of the Singelgracht. Unlike the previous lift in Victoria, there was no helper work boat, and no divers. Instead of being ferried to shore, we as passengers on Sequoia were lifted up to the deck of the freighter. When Sequoia was at the same level as the freighter’s deck, we stepped off of Sequoia and onto the Singelgracht. A crew member escorted us up into a lounge/mess hall with a view of the freighter’s deck. It was fascinating to watch while they lifted Sequoia up and over the deck and settled her into place about six feet from the windows of the lounge/mess hall. We saw them place supports under the boat, strap the boat to fittings on deck, and release the lifting straps. Then one of the officers invited us to eat with the crew and we enjoyed a carbohydrate-rich meal designed for physically active young men: beef and peppers, rice, french fries, salad, soup and milk. The officers conversed in Dutch, and the crew (mostly Southeast Asian) ate in silence. We speculate that they may be from so many different countries and cultures that they don’t talk together easily.
After we ate, and after Sequoia was firmly strapped in place, we climbed a ladder up onto the boat and made various arrangements to secure the boat for the passage. Craig restored the backstay and I removed and stowed bumpers. We were escorted off the ship and out of the secure port area, and found ourselves on a lonely street in a questionable part of town. We got an Uber ride to retrieve our car, and thence back to normality.
Today we find ourselves in Orlando, contemplating which of the overwhelming number of Disney and other theme parks we’ll visit tomorrow, before returning home the next day.
It’s been a very eventful 10 days since we left home. We are expectant and hopeful about our new adventures, starting in Ghent about 2 weeks from now! Never a dull moment.
Sequoia in Florida
19 April 2017 | Florida
Barbara & Craig
Craig described for you the rather complex process of getting Sequoia onto the freighter Merwedegracht in Victoria, B.C. Aside from dealing with March weather in the Pacific Northwest, the main challenge was the ever-changing schedule of the Merwedegracht, due primarily to weather conditions in the Pacific Ocean.
With Sequoia and dozens of other boats on her deck, the Merwedegracht headed south out of Victoria toward the Panama Canal. The shipping company has been pretty good about keeping us abreast of the shipping schedule. The definite arrival of the ship at the Panama Canal was April 8 at 5 am. We eagerly watched the Panama Canal's web cameras and their AIS map showing vessel locations. We spotted the Merwedegracht easily on the AIS map - anchored with dozens of other boats off the Pacific entrance to the canal. We waited and waited (a friend said to us, "How many times a day are you checking the AIS?")
I didn't figure we could buy our plane tickets to Florida until we had a more or less accurate forecast of when the Merwedegracht would arrive at West Palm Beach. And of course, the later you buy your plane tickets, the more they'll cost.
Finally, in the late afternoon of April 10 we could see the Merwedegracht move on the AIS map. Now we, and several of our friends, began watching the progress, and switching to the Canal's webcams for the Miraflores Locks. It was completely dark by the time we could see the ship coming into the first lock. Needless to say the picture quality wasn't much. But we could read the name of the ship on her stern, and we could see what we think was Sequoia's mast. Yay!
The ship was completely through the Panama Canal before we got up the next morning, and heading north toward Florida. Now, they told us that she would arrive at West Palm Beach at 9 am on April 15. So I ordered up airplane tickets... Couldn't be round trip because we had no idea when the Singelgracht would be loading up, heading out and arriving in The Netherlands.
The deal was that although the Merwedegracht unloads in West Palm Beach, the best freighter to Europe would be departing from Jacksonville. 250 miles up the coast. Our options were to hire a delivery captain to sail Sequoia from West Palm Beach to Jacksonville ($$$$) or to go to Florida and make the trip ourselves. We decided we might like doing that sail, and the price of air tickets was less than the cost of the delivery captain.
Merwedegracht did indeed arrive at a little before 9 am on April 15. We had intended to watch the arrival, but we were a bit late, and the ship was already in her slip. We walked up the nearby overpass, and got a fairly good view of the ship, once again spotting Sequoia's mast where it should be.
They allowed 2 hours for customs to go through the ship, and we were told that Sequoia would be lifted off at 6:30 pm, after 10-12 other boats. Unfortunately, customs didn't show up until 1 pm. The excuse was apparently that they had some duty to perform connected with Trump being here (The Merwedegracht landed about 2 miles up the coast from Mar-a-Lago.) (Humph!) We were given a new delivery time of 9:30 pm.
(We did not have a hotel for that night, planning on sleeping aboard Sequoia.) I did grocery shopping, including perishables for our trip north. Bought a couple of ice chests, filled with ice, put groceries in car. Hot car. This is a hot place.
At our hotel, a couple of miles away from the docks, we had met a British fellow, Peter, who was sitting by the swimming pool, reading a sailing book. Craig introduced himself, and it turns out Peter and his brother, Bob, were awaiting the arrival of Bob's sailboat ("Crazy Horse") on the same freighter. We quickly became friends, and had several meals together during the waiting. As it turns out, Crazy Horse was the first boat lifted off on the 15th. We were aboard the ship at the time, as we needed to remove the backstay for the unloading operation. It's pretty interesting aboard that ship. We saw the undersides of so many boats (including Sequoia). We also watched part of Crazy Horse's lift-off. Bob and Peter got their boat situated in the Riviera Beach marina and then offered to help us with the re-rigging that would be needed before we could sail up the coast. We expected the re-rigging could begin at 9 am the next morning.
But wait!! The harbor was very windy, with gusts to 25 knots, so the Captain decided, at about 9 pm, that unloading operations had to stop. What to do? There's not much you can do except accommodate to what's happening. So we went back to that same hotel, fortunately they had a room for us. We moved all the groceries inside, along with our other gear, and re-stoked on ice.
Another point of interest - the major group of guests at this hotel was the baseball team, the Houston Astros, who were in town for an early series with the Marlins. It's not that common to see so many good-looking, athletic guys in your hotel! Many seemed not to speak much English; if you tried to converse with them you would only get blank looks. If they were speaking Spanish, it was highly idiomatic. Perhaps it was Creole? These guys seemed to get up every morning at 5 am and splash around in the swimming pool, while holding shouted conversations full of laughter. But seriously, guys, 5 am?
Our new lift-off time was 9:30 am. Merwedegracht hired a little transport boat, run by "Captain John" to transport boat owners over to the ship, to receive their boat. We were supposed to be picked up by Captain John at 9 am. He was pretty late, and when we finally arrived at the ship, Sequoia was floating alongside. We didn't get to see any of the lift-off. Apparently Captain John wanted to watch the lift-off and his comment was that "they didn't tell me anything."
The next problem was that we rented a slip for April 15 at Riviera Beach Marina (closest to the Merwedegracht's docking spot), and we had no boat to put in it. ($$$) The next day, the 16th, when we were actually lifted off, we were told we could only stay in that slip until 11 am, when the slip's owner would be returning. A little bit of mournful talk with the office staff, and they finally allowed as how we could stay until the owner did actually get back - projected to be between 3 and 5 in the afternoon. Moreover, they would let us stay on the fuel dock during its closing hours (5 pm to 8 am).
It took all of that day to get Sequoia re-rigged for the sail up the coast to Jacksonville. Peter and Bob came and helped us, and then we all went out for dinner (having given up our rental car that morning).
So we spent the night on the fuel dock, then left in the morning to anchor just off of a gilded village of Palm Beach mansions. Craig's computations about the trip north suggested that leaving West Palm Beach in the afternoon would be better. There are few boating strategies worse than arriving at a strange harbor in the dark. So we spent the morning doing boat chores, and got underway at about 1:30 in the afternoon.
Craig's computations didn't take into account the Gulf Stream. For about the first 8 hours of our trip it was whooshing along at 5 knots or more. Our normal cruising speed is 7-8 knots, but here, all of a sudden we're going 12-13 over the bottom! That had the effect of changing our predicted arrival time in Jacksonville to - you guessed it - the middle of the night. So once we were clear of the Gulf Stream, we slowed way down, putting up only enough sail to make 4 knots. At one point we hove-to and had a leisurely dinner while the boat went more or less nowhere.
At one point during the passage, we were joined by a tiny Goldfinch. I was at the helm, and as I looked at the deck by my feet, I noticed the shadow of a bird. I turned this way and that, and finally spotted him (or her?) about six inches away on the backstay. There we were, eyeball to eyeball. Oh how I wished I had my camera, but I'm sure any motion would have startled the bird. He finally flew off to perch on another fitting and I called to Craig to get the camera. The little bird flew inside the cabin, and Craig was finally able to get some snapshots. Eventually, though, he flew off, hopefully in the direction of land (about 15 miles away...)
During the passage to Jacksonville, we saw plenty of dolphins and one sea turtle. I would like to have seen a manatee, but I guess they are not out in the ocean. The other interesting event was the launch of an Atlas 5 rocket at Cape Canaveral. The Coast Guard was on the air with all sorts of warnings. We were a little bit past the Cape when the rocket launched - We heard several seconds of loud rumbling noise, and a curvy cloud going up into the sky. It would be nice to have actually seen it!
We arrived in Jacksonville, indeed, at 6:30 am, just as the sun was coming up. The area where we will find the Singelgracht for loading is about 15 miles up the St. John River, so we found a nearby marina where we will prepare the boat for shipping, and will await word as to when that may be. We are maybe the only boat going on the deck of the Singelgracht, and of course no one can give us a schedule. We will suck it up, unrig the boat, and try to survive in the 80-degree weather and brilliant sunshine. Hey, we got our warm water vacation! Schedules still make you crazy.
Say Buddy, Can I Get a Lift?
25 March 2017 | Victoria, B.C., Canada
The first big action in shipping Sequoia to Europe is getting it onto the deck of a freighter. Last Fall we signed a contract with Sevenstar Yacht Transport to move the boat, and at the end of February they identified the ship that would make the first leg of the trip. M/V Merwedegracht is a bulk carrier owned by Spliethoff, the Dutch company that is also the parent of Sevenstar. The freighter took on a cargo below decks in Asia, plus one power boat from Hong Kong, and arrived last Monday in Victoria, B.C. ready to load number of yachts on deck. That was only 5 days later than the original scheduled arrival.
Thanks to the efforts of Dave King and friends, Sequoia made a fast and reasonably uneventful trip up the coast to Port Angeles. With my friend Chip Gardes, I drove up to Port Angeles on Saturday and on Sunday we sailed across to Victoria. Despite 30 knot winds the day before, we were greeted with sunshine, light easterlies, and a massive 8-12 inch chop. So in reality, we motored most of the way, but enjoyed a nice sail in the last hour, 9 knots of wind on the beam. With a clean bottom, Sequoia slid effortlessly along at 4.5-5 knots. Nice!
In Victoria we were assigned a guest moorage at the Causeway Marina, right in front of the historic Empress hotel. Mark Downing met us there after a romantic weekend in the city with his wife, Fern. Now is probably a great time to visit Victoria, as the massive crowds of people and boats that fill the city in the summer were absent.
Our job was to prepare the boat for shipping: remove the sails, dodger and loose deck gear, and make the boat even more secure than it would be for an ocean passage. Because the freighter lifting point was just aft of the mast, we had to set up the running backstays well forward of their normal position so that we could safely remove the standing backstay.
It turned out that we had plenty of time to complete the prep work thanks to 36 hours of accumulated delays in the loading schedule. Although we breakfasted on Sequoia, we managed to find time for great dinners among the many fine restaurants of Victoria. We also took a side trip to Sooke (which we gringos were mispronouncing; it should rhyme with "duke").
There is reportedly a great Provincial Park on the west side of the bay, but due to time constraints we settled for a nice pub lunch so that we could drive back in time for snacks and drinks with our former crew Joe Carr, a Victoria native. Tough duty, but someone had to do it.
Wednesday was a different story, as that was the day of the lift, scheduled for 1400. (As a sidebar, I should explain that we always say "lift;" the alternative is to say "pick up", and the common counterpart to that is "drop off". When dealing with your beloved boat 50 feet in the air, you never use the word "drop". With "lift" you can say "lift on" and "lift off.") About an hour early we motored to Odgen Pt., where the Merwedegracht was moored. It turned out that there was no rush, as the previous lift was going slowly. The boat was a partially complete 68' power cat, which we promptly dubbed the Workinprogress. The skilled crane operator had to reposition it several times to shoehorn it onto the freighter's deck next to the 72' Alumicat that bore Army Corps of Engineers colors.
Lifting Sequoia went amazingly fast. After pulling alongside the freighter, we were held loosely in position by lines thrown from above while the crane moved the slings underneath us. Two divers positioned the slings for a clean lift, then we stepped off onto the C-Tow work-boat that was idling alongside. We watched while Sequoia was lifted to deck level in what seemed like 30 seconds. Once over the freighter's deck and being jockeyed into position I was finally able to start breathing again. The work-boat took us back to the Empress (and Mark's car) and we drove back to Ogden Point.
The reason for the crew's speedy lift became apparent as the weather quickly degenerated. By the time Sequoia was in place, the day's gray skies and moderate breeze had turned into torrential rain and over 30 kn of wind, driving whitecaps well into the Victoria harbor. By the time we got back to Ogden Point., cleared security and signed the freighter's entry log, Sequoia was nestled into a small forest of jack stands, each welded into position on the freighter's deck. I went up and restored the backstay and buttoned the boat up. Did I mention that the boats were snugly packed on the freighter's deck? I boarded Sequoia from the swimstep of the Army cat, and I don't think there was more than 4 inches separating it and the Workinprogress.
All in all, it was a fascinating, if occasionally tense, process. Fingers crossed for a smooth trip down the coast and through the Panama canal, Sequoia should arrive in West Palm Beach about mid-April. It is possible Barbara and I will fly to Florida to meet it and get it to the next leg of transport, but as of now, none of those details can be accurately planned, as the ship for the next leg has yet to be identified. This just reinforces an old cruising maxim of ours: "Schedules make you CRAZY!" Whatever comes will be an adventure.
Thanks to Joe Carr for the photo of Sequoia being lifted onto the Merwedegracht. Check out Joe's video of the lift at the link found at the bottom of the right-hand column of this page.